Jackson County Job Fair Attracts Thousands

JACKSON, Miss. (AP)

Mississippi has been hit with more manufacturing layoffs, but a job fair Tuesday on the Gulf Coast revealed that a lot of companies still need workers. Three more businesses announced this week that they will close their operations in the state, which has lost nearly 5,000 manufacturing jobs since the first of the year.

Georgia-based Hartwell Industries said it will close its Auburn Sportswear plant in Brookhaven in August, eliminating 119 jobs. The company cited high domestic production costs.

On the coast, Rohm and Haas said it will shut down its adhesives plant in Moss Point at the end of the year, a move that will affect 210 jobs. The specialty chemical company, based in Philadelphia, Pa., said last month that it was scaling back its business around the country because of reduced demand for some products. ``This is a very disappointing day at the plant,'' Jane Bowen, manager of the Rohm and Haas plant, said Monday. ``Unfortunately, the business environment we find ourselves in today made continued operation of this facility unrealistic.''

On Tuesday, West Virginia-based Royal Vendors Inc. said it will close its Cleveland plant in August. In March, the struggling vending machine maker laid off about 80 workers, roughly half of its work force. The economic climate has been a common theme in the steady flow of job-reduction announcements this year.

A sluggish national economy has taken its toll on the state, particularly in manufacturing.

But there was good news Tuesday at a job fair in Pascagoula sponsored by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and the state of Mississippi. Some 75 employers from Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida took applications from 3,000 potential workers for jobs in communications, financial services, education, energy and other fields.

Chamber spokeswoman Amy Sloan said the initial idea was to help Jackson County residents, but the fair attracted people from across the state. ``I even had calls from Alabama,'' Sloan said. ``The exhibitors couldn't believe it. We've had hiring on the spot, and some are setting up interviews for later in the week.''

Jackson County has had several doses of bad economic news this year. Shipbuilder Friede Goldman Halter Inc. has cut its work force while it operates under bankruptcy protection. On Sunday, International Paper's Moss Point mill closes for good, placing 375 people out of work. ``It's a difficult time, but we're trying to help as much as we can,'' said retiring IP plant manager Ed Locke.

Mississippi's unemployment rate was a healthy 4.3 percent in April, fueled by 4,000 new jobs in the agriculture sector. But officials with the Mississippi Employment Security Commission say the jobless rate is sure to rise in May because of seasonal factors.

``Students are out of school and will enter the job market,'' said MESC spokeswoman Jan Garrick. ``We're also going to see the results of the layoffs we've been reading about. The numbers almost assuredly are going to go up.''